NSTU Educational Research Repository

Welcome to our new repository of academic research in education, comprising the accomplished thesis work of our members.

If you have completed a thesis in educational research and are willing to share the results, we would like to celebrate your work.

Submissions of thesis summary and accompanying vetted results can be sent to appl@nstu.ca.





Matthew Ngo

A Teacher's Autoethnography Of Grit And Student Success In A High School Physics Classroom

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What factors, situations and contexts lead to the success of students in school? Success can mean different things to different individuals and, therefore, success is context specific. Authors such as Duckworth, Peterson, Matthews and Kelly (2007) refer to success and achievement as the “accomplishment of widely valued goals” (p. 1087). These researchers suggest that highly accomplished students tend to have a high degree of grit. While much research related to grit focuses on personality traits such as determination, conscientiousness, sustained effort and the ability to persevere when encountering obstacles, other significant and sometimes overlooked factors also significantly impact a student’s ability to be gritty and successful in schools.

Literature from Gorski (2016) suggests that grit ideology falls somewhere between two ends of a wide spectrum—deficit and structural ideology. For those who associate grit with deficit ideology, there is a belief that students can change their success and situation through a change in “attitudes, behaviors, cultures, and mindset” (p. 381). However, for those who associate grit with structural ideology, there is recognition of factors such as poverty, socioeconomic status, race, gender and inequity of school resources. Through an autoethnographic lens, the culture of grit and student success was researched and explored within a high school physics classroom. While deficit ideological traits exist in the autoethnographic stories involving former students, structural ideological factors also show crucial moments and times when a student’s grit and success radically changed for the better or declined as a result.

Dr. Steven Van Zoost

This Is Me In Grade 9: Transition From A Middle School To A High School

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The purpose of this thesis is to attempt to understand the process of transition from middle school to high school. To develop an understanding I conducted a case study of one group of students as they moved from Grade 8 to 9. As a Grade 8 teacher I wanted to more fully understand the initial concerns of my previous students about: a) the high school's climate, b) their social relations, and c) academics as they moved to Grade 9.

I used a qualitative methodology for this research. Data sources included notes from participant observation, questionnaire results, and transcripts from interviews. Educators at the middle school and the high school, students in Grade 9, and these students' parents participated in the research. In the analysis of data four themes developed about the transition process: students' voices during the transition, unclear roles and responsibilities within the school community, perceptions about the Grade 9 teachers, and shifts in curriculum frameworks.

Recommendations developed from the analysis: a higher level of parental involvement; a student orientation at the beginning of Grade 9; increased assistance from the Regional School Board and the Department of Education and Culture; and more opportunities for educators to discuss transition concerns. To develop a more comprehensive transition program, I discuss designing a transition team, emphasizing collaboration among the members of the school community.

Dr. Steven Van Zoost

Mark Me: Student Identities In Authentic Assessment Practices

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This is a study of the constitution of adolescents’ identity through authentic assessment experiences in my Grade 8 homeroom English class in a rural school in Nova Scotia, Canada. It combines poststructuralist theory with practitioner research and examines how young people, through authentic assessment, constituted identities in my classroom to be assessed.

As someone who was an enthusiastic user of authentic assessment, I became suspicious of its effects on students and began to wonder if it differed from traditional assessment practices. I also questioned if the students, through the authentic assessment events in my classroom, constituted identities to suit me. Therefore, my research question asked how are young people’s identities constituted in my classroom through authentic assessment practices? I explored ideal subject positions in assessment policies and in my classroom program, and how they played out in what the students did to constitute identities.

To help create distance from my everyday classroom perspective as a teacher, I designed a methodology with three lenses: practitioner research, qualitative methods, and critical discourse analysis. This process involved analysing four types of data: assessment policies, data from the classroom program, reflective data from students, and my research journal. The analysis led to three key findings concerning the constitution of students’ identities in my classroom.

The first finding was that authentic assessment in my classroom shaped school work as identity work. This was an important finding because the authentic assessment literature and the policies in this study do not take into account the constitution of students’ identities and do not address the hidden effects of power in authentic assessment practices. Authentic assessment in my classroom raised the stakes of assessment because I was marking the student’s whole self and not simply their specific knowledge and skills in English.

The second finding was that one way that identities were constituted was by students lining up the self with teacher and curricular expectations. The authentic assessment practices in the classroom were explicit about these expectations with students as well as how their marks were generated. This process meant that authentic assessment in my classroom was powerful in persuading young people about the kind of person that they needed to be and in general, young people aligned themselves with these expectations.

The third finding was that authentic assessment made schooling engaging for most of the students in my classroom because it connected school work with their interests. In a time when young people are resisting schooling, my study has shown how students in a relatively poor and rural education were engaged and successful at school. That being said, while authentic assessment has great potential for working with young people, not all students in my classroom were engaged. In addition, there are dangers that authentic assessment may unknowingly promote the formation of uncritical and flexible subjects ideally suited to neo-liberal discourses.

I conclude by suggesting that the field of authentic assessment needs to acknowledge its connections with the formation of student identity and address itself to the social and political challenges of that work.

Dr. Steven Van Zoost

Changes And Possibilities: A Case Study Of Nova Scotia Classroom Assessment Policies

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Although numerous writers have identified a different set of skills needed for employment in New Times, little analytic attention has been paid to how educational assessment policies contribute to envisioning such future citizens. This case study illustrates how Nova Scotia classroom assessment policy for Grades 7–9 English classes envisions young people as new workers who use new literacies in an knowledge economy for future employment in the province and elsewhere. The case study concludes that assessment policies must acknowledge their connections with ideal subject positions and the promotions of particular forms of knowledge.